“We can’t kill our way out of this mess… A group of Arab scholars came together...to look at how we can help the world reject these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this... more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends. We should coordinate it to make sure that we push back and give them more economic development.”
Governor Romney was citing a decade-old report that prescribed massive economic development to combat growing poverty in the Arab World. And unless Governor Romney intends to give subsidies for American investment abroad, the primary vehicle for such “development” must be foreign aid.
Ironically, Romney was parroting the blueprint President Obama has put into practice for the last three years. It stands at the heart of our national security strategy as President Obama has pushed for more aggressive and accountable foreign aid. It represents a balanced foreign policy approach reflecting empirical evidence that socioeconomic malaise, political disenfranchisement, and culture drive terror, as well as poverty.
Regrettably, there is remarkable dissonance between Governor Romney’s latest position – recognition that economic development and rule of law are core to promoting stability in places like Mali, Pakistan, and Yemen -- and his previous statements (and campaign platform) calling for cuts in these programs, while boosting military spending. Romney's plan would cut $100 million in foreign aid and add conditions to assistance programs, while raising defense spending to 4 % of GDP.
The Romney plan is exactly the recipe for an imbalanced, military-heavy foreign policy. It is the strategy tried by President Bush – to fight terror through military means – and it is destined for failure. In practical terms, it means more spending for DoD and less for civilian agencies responsible for the very development for which Mr. Romney advocates.
U.S. economic aid programs abroad should be about more than counterterrorism, and they should not come through the military. Real change in places like Pakistan and Yemen requires a long-term development strategy, one focused on enhancing civilian institutions and strengthening the rule of law. This was exactly the rationale behind the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation for Pakistan. Their measure focused on the basic needs of the people, instead of the shifting counterterrorism goals of the United States or enhancement of foreign militaries.
Cutting foreign aid while boosting military would have the opposite effect. It would mean more spending on military assistance programs, rather than on development. That is a proven method of failure in places like Pakistan.
Governor Romney’s call for massive economic development is welcomed in theory, but is overshadowed by the practical impact of his positions. Assistance should not be turned on and off based on shifting political events, as Governor Romney advocates. And it cannot be done on a shoestring.
Connolly is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.